You are here


The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is part of the Scottish Government’s Hydro Nation strategy. The objective of the strategy is to develop the economic, environmental and social value of Scotland’s water resources. The Hydro Nation Scholars play an important role in supporting this by:

  • developing understanding of how and where best to develop the value of Scotland’s water resources
  • focusing on enhancing Scottish capacity in areas of existing research excellence
  • providing new research and insights where there are gaps related to water resources in Scotland.

Projects with international elements will be expected to recognise and reflect in their design the key territories set out in the Scottish Government’s International Development Framework, and of those Malawi in particular. Projects in other territories can be considered, but priority will be given to projects which can demonstrate a clear understanding of recent or current Hydro Nation international activity.

The Programme and the associated graduate school are managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Hydro Nation International Centre at the James Hutton Institute and steered by an Executive Group (HNSEG) drawing on  Scotland’s water policy, industry, and academic network.


The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for project topics and then for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. The areas of interest are set out below.

Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council) for up to 7 PhD scholarships. Overseas scholars can be considered, but the funder’s directions suggest each cohort should have a majority of Home scholars.   Home and overseas Scholars are defined according to a Scholar’s status for University admissions. The funding available will be in line with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Currently these are:

  • National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2020/21 is £15,285
  • Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2020/21 is £4,407

Scholars will be allocated £2,500 per annum for Travel and Subsistence and all fees and stipend will be covered. Exceptional costs, for example, reasonable and justifiable additional research costs (RTSG), travel costs and placement costs during the scholarship will be negotiated with the HNSEG.

Scholars will be funded for 4 years. The scholarship may involve periods of research at a water related institution, such as Scottish Water, the Scottish Government, SEPA, or industry. The HNSEG will liaise between the applicant and the water organisation to develop this link, following appointment of the Scholar. Please do not contact a placement partner before application.

Scholars will benefit from specialised programmes provided under the auspices of the Hydro Nation Graduate School


Call for Project Proposals

  • The call for project proposals, based on advertised topics is made in July of the current year
  • There is a strict limit of one application per academic as a primary supervisor and one as a second supervisor
  • Projects proposals must be submitted to Nikki Dodd ( on the project proposal form below
  • The deadline for the submission of project proposals for the 2021 call is the 18th September 2020
  • The proposal must show that the project is rational, feasible, innovative and relevant to the Hydro Nation strategy
  • Project proposals will be reviewed and selected by a panel chaired by the Executive Group and includes policy stakeholders from Scottish Water, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Water Industry Commissioner for Scotland, Drinking Water Quality Regulator and Scottish Natural Heritage.  The panel will then decide on which projects will be approved for advertisement. Proposers will be notified of the outcome early-mid October 2020. 
  • An additional call, if deemed necessary by the HNSEG, may be made in October of the current year in line with the schedule below
  • If approved for advertisement, this does not mean that the project has been successful in securing the funding from the Scottish Government.
  • PhD candidates for approved advertised projects will then be interviewed with recommendations to the Scottish Government, who will take the final decision on the award of Scholarships.

Summary timetable for recruitment for 2021

Postgraduate Project Proposal Call

July 2020

Deadline for Project Proposal Submission

18th September 2020

Review of Project Proposals by Hydro Nation Stakeholder Executive Group

Early October 2020

Advertisement of Approved Projects

26th October 2020

Deadline for Scholar Applications

8th January 2021

PhD Scholar Interviews

11th and 12th February 2021

Final Decisions on PhD Scholars

Late February 2021



1.  Water smart cities

Issue: Citizens, infrastructure, and industry must take seriously the need to develop new forms of resilience against climate driven impacts, including extreme events.  A holistic approach for our existing and future cities needs to align both “hard” infrastructure and natural green assets to promote resilience that includes health, wellbeing, and multiple benefits. Sustainable use and management of water can enhance urban resilience in ways that are only just becoming apparent. Potential routes toward more resilient cities might include innovations in flood-proofing, city networks for optimal management, integrating catchment features, construction and the built environment, and new approaches to urban planning.

Ask: Project proposals are invited which will help us to better understand the science of  attenuation features from different perspectives, understanding existing and future water flows in urban environments to underpin effective scale interventions and how to inform effective interventions which may comprise a combination of engineering, policy, planning and community-based approaches to resilience.

2. Integrated land and water management

Issue: Land use is both a source and a sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and plays a key role in the exchange of energy and water between the land surface and atmosphere. Land ecosystems  are vulnerable to ongoing climate change as well as more immediate weather and climate extremes, but sustainable land and water management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies.

Ask: Project proposals are invited which will explore placed-based solutions to land use, change and management of greenhouse gas emission and carbon sequestration. Research (including case studies) that explores an integrated approach to balanced management including novel agricultural systems, restoration of water dominated ecosystems such as peatlands and wetlands, afforestation and habitat improvement including nature-based solutions is invited.

3. Digital water

Issue: Digital water is the proactive management of water networks, using a range of emerging technologies including sensors, AI and machine learning, to provide improved levels of system intelligence, visibility, automation control, and customer service. This can be enhanced when data is shared and easily available to multiple stakeholders.

Ask: Project proposals are invited which explore the potential for new smart technologies and innovations enabled by the Internet of Things to collect real-time information which informs the here-and-now management of water resources.  This can include issues such as predictive technologies for flood assessment, delivering energy and efficiency savings in networks, environmental status and monitoring, benefits to customers, as well as increased awareness and efficiencies in domestic usage.

4.  Water and the circular economy

Issue: There is a pressing need to embed circular economy principles in water management to mitigate against a global water crisis and support a post-COVID green recovery. This includes ensuring that water use efficiency and reuse, energy and resource recovery are optimised, that value is extracted throughout the supply chain, and that initiatives support a “beyond compliance” environmental standard. Concurrently, there is a requirement for both economic and policy evaluation to enable regulatory and policy arrangements to support innovations in the sector.

Ask: Project proposals are invited which explore water and wastewater technologies that promote energy efficiencies. These may include methane and ammonia recovery, hydrogen production, along with wider resource and high-value product recovery, and greenhouse gas emission control. Projects that consider future supply chains and raw material dynamics, cross-sectoral technology and knowledge exchange to other sectors such as food & drink and manufacturing are particularly welcome.

5.  Wildcard - interdisciplinary innovation

Issue: The water cycle is the most important earth system process sustaining life on the planet. New paradigms and interdisciplinary thinking are required to confront the challenges facing this critical, but also vulnerable resource. Innovation thrives at the intersection of science disciplines (biophysical, socio-economic, engineering, law, and medicine), inter-sectoral business knowledge transfer, societal engagement (including education, culture and gender issues), holistic systems thinking, and citizen science.

Ask: Project proposals will be considered which develop interdisciplinary approaches to confront domestic and global water challenges (*Wildcard proposals are limited to a maximum one proposal per lead academic institution).


The Project Proposal Application form can be downloaded here.

Please return this form to Nikki Dodd ( in electronic (Word) format by: 18th September 2020.